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On May 6, 2013, three police cars and two fire trucks were parked on a highway in Yuma County, Arizona—having responded to an accident that had occurred there—when a semi truck crashed into them, killing one of the officers. Records later showed that the driver of the empty semi-truck fuel tanker was looking at photos of scantily clad women on Facebook at the time of the crash, and was so distracted he didn’t see another police officer frantically waving his arms trying to get his attention.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that in 2010, over 3,400 large truck drivers were involved in fatal crashes, with 188 of those qualified as distracted drivers. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported that commercial drivers were engaged in non-driving related tasks in 71 percent of crashes, 46 percent of near-crashes, and 60 percent of all safety-critical events.

Driver Was On Facebook

Driver Jorge Espinoza was going 65 miles per hour, having set the cruise control, when he ran into the police cars and fire trucks in Arizona. Video shows that his wallet was blocking the view of the dash camera, and documents from the investigation state that he intentionally placed it there to block the lens while he was manipulating his phone. Cell phone records further detailed his use of the phone at the time of the crash. Officer Tim Huffman, 47 years old, was killed in the wreck. Espinoza now faces 20 felony charges, including second-degree murder.

Distracted driving is a problem for all drivers, but with drivers of semi trucks and other large commercial vehicles, it can be particularly disastrous because of the sheer weight and size of the vehicles. A tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded, whereas a passenger vehicle weighs around 2,700 pounds. If the truck’s cargo is flammable or dangerous, the resulting explosion or spill can cause additional injuries and possible death.

Distraction More Serious in Commercial Vehicles

In a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the most risky distracted driving behavior was text messaging on a cell phone, with the odds of being in a safety-critical event 23.2 times greater for those drivers who texted while driving. The Administration noted that texting drivers took their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds—long enough to travel the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour.

Surfing the web has also been found to be dangerous in recent studies, however. A recent USA Today report found that the number of drivers saying they use their cell phones to access the Internet while driving continues to rise. In commercial vehicles, however, this can be a serious offense. In November 2011, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a final rule prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. Drivers who violate the rule face federal civil penalties up to $2,750 for each offense, with multiple offenses leading to disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle.

“It’s just too dangerous for drivers to use a hand-held cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “Drivers must keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and head in the game when operating on our roads. Lives are at stake.”

Espinoza told officers that he was looking in his mirror at a passing truck when the accident took place in Arizona. Video footage from the dash camera, however, showed his Samsung Galaxy 3 phone flying out of his hand at the time of the crash.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Tammy Huffman

    Very good article regarding distracted driving, and phone usage problems. I just wished more people would understand that this is a serious national issue, and that the public perception must change. My brother is dead because of it, and we miss him every day. Thanks for the article reminding folks about this issue.

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